Motivation in Afterschool: Recognition Matters

Afterschool educator Stephanie Manzo knows that motivation is an important element in learning. She works with students at Valley Oak Middle School in Visalia, California, where Read to Lead is part of the academic component of their afterschool program. 

When Stephanie first told her students about the Million Words Read Challenge, they didn’t think they could reach the goal of reading one million words. But because her students enjoyed Read to Lead, and recognized there was a prize for completing the challenge, Stephanie made a point of keeping them updated on their progress and in April 2019, her students became millionaires. 

Stephanie uses Read to Lead during the academic hour of her afterschool program. Initially, the episodes were only assigned to students who didn’t have homework to complete. “We asked them to use Read to Lead so they could improve their literacy and learn how to be the boss,” explained Stephanie. As they started playing the episodes and completing the hands-on activities, her students no longer saw Read to Lead as additional work and began to enjoy the experience.

Because the program is set up as episodes with corresponding hands-on, project-based activities, Stephanie’s students learned how to finish a big project (completing all of the episodes) by focusing on the smaller tasks within. This was the approach they took in the Million Words Read Challenge, as Stephanie championed their work and kept them motivated to reach one million words.

While Read to Lead started as just one academic component of an afterschool program, it quickly became something her students really enjoyed. “I have some students who even go home and work on the episodes,” noted Stephanie. “They like the fact they have options, that they can make their own decisions.” 

Additionally, Read to Lead has built her students’ connections to real-world workplace situations. After playing Vital Signs, some of her students told Stephanie they want to work in nursing or in a hospital setting so they can help people. “I like that Read to Lead teaches them how to write a cover letter and resume,” explained Stephanie. “My students will absolutely use those skills in the future.”

For Stephanie, Read to Lead is exposing her students to important literacy and leadership skills in a fun, engaging way. The Million Words Read Challenge helped keep them motivated to continue through the episodes even when they had other activities to choose from during their afterschool program. “We participated in the Million Words Read Challenge so that our students could gain real world skills while reading and having a fun experience!” Stephanie’s students were motivated to read a million words because they started to see the badges they won and recognized their own progress.

When Stephanie was notified that her students had completed the challenge, her students were excited by the news. She was proud of them, but shocked by what happened next. Instead of being content with reaching one million words, her students were motivated to keep reading. 

“I thought they were going to stop using Read to Lead in their free time when they completed the challenge,” remembered Stephanie, “but they continued to play the episodes and work on the activities. They are so proud of themselves and their accomplishment!”

To learn more about this year’s Million Words Read Challenge and how you can participate, click here!